January 2019 Reading Wrap

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I didn’t really set any official goals for 2019 beyond writing as much as I can, but I’ve been thinking about my reading life and what I want it to look like. So much of what I read and how I read has changed in the last few years, especially since i started writing seriously a year ago. I used to burn through multiple books at a time and always had a book in hand or an audiobook in my ears. I set goals for how many books to read, increasing that number every year to challenge myself, and I’d try to read a certain number of classics or books about certain topics.

But now my reading revolves around my writing. I’m slow and picky and have a hard time with audiobooks because I want to study the language. I pick books that I think will inspire or teach me, searching for authors that explore similar topics to what I write about or will inspire me with their gorgeous prose. And I always read with a pen in hand and take things really slow.

I guess my reading goal for 2019 is to spend a lot of time reading, but to ignore numbers or challenges or the many many books I’m curious about but just can’t seem to keep up with. Of course I want to find joy in my reading, but I also want to be inspired. I want to learn. I want to grow. If that takes more time and means I finish less books, that’s alright by me.

So, without further ado, here are the books I read this month.

PURE: INSIDE THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT THAT SHAMED A GENERATION OF YOUNG WOMEN AND HOW I BROKE FREE - LINDA KAY KLEIN

hauntingly relatable, dispiriting, but too surface level.

I picked this book as research for my writing, but also to witness women’s upbringings that are parallel to my own. Klein explores the Evangelical purity movement and how it impacted women and their futures, self-esteem, and relationship with God. She sits down with women to ask them about their experiences as young women in a patriarchal culture that believed women were temptresses who needed to be sexually pure in order to be worthy of God and future husbands. The stories these women told were heartbreaking and a little too relatable.

But unfortunately the writing suffers. Klein begins with personal experiences, but fails to disconnect herself when she investigates further through interviews and surface-level research. She basically transcribes the interviews, including her own comments and related experiences, where they met up, what they ordered, and how they caught up on their pasts together; most interviewees were old friends or friends of friends.

However, some of the interviews hit me hard. I related to the women's experiences of struggling with purity after being married and how that impacts your own self-esteem. There were many women that suffered through faith crises and subsequently left but suffered through the trauma of trying to function afterward when your entire belief system no longer makes sense. She gave me some great terms for my own experience and helped me to see it wasn't exclusive to my faith or experience. If she writes another book on a similar subject, I hope that's it.

A COMPLICATED KINDNESS - MIRIAM TOEWS

inspiring, clever, and funny, yet sorrowful and crushing.

I’ve been obsessed with Miriam Toews since reading Women Talking in November. I was told this earlier novel explored similar themes in a more contemporary way and so I went out and got myself a copy. It didn’t disappoint. Toews wrote a beautiful and poignant tale of family and the unique ways we sacrifice for and love them, despite differences and disagreements and complete confusion about one another. Though slow and brooding, I never grew bored of main character Nomi’s descriptions of her town, her family, the life she’s grown so bored of, or the vague but cherished dream of leaving. From the very beginning, she fills you with questions then gives you the background and clues to come up with your own answers as she ponders her own.

Toews’ writing, in terms of characters, pacing, plot, imagery, and humor, is such an inspiration to me. She speaks volumes about patriarchy, religion, family, and loyalty yet always provides room for grace and forgiveness. I particularly loved and learned from the way she interweaves flashback with present tense, illustrating the huge change in main character Nomi’s disposition and beliefs after her mother and sister both leave her, her father, and their Mennonite community.

EDUCATED - TARA WESTOVER

gripping and horrifying, but gracious and uplifting.

I finally read the buzziest book of 2018, the one EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER recommended I read. Though it took me a while to give in, I’m glad I didn’t read it until this month. I’m not usually one for memoirs as, in my (probably wrong) opinion, they often come across as indulgent or directionless. Educated was neither. From the beginning, Westover speaks purposefully and eloquently of her experiences growing up on a mountain range in Idaho, raised by a paranoid and exacting father and a subservient mom. Though Westover grew up Mormon, the religion I, too, was raised in, she made it clear that her parents rendering of the religion was exaggerated and extreme. I did not relate as much to her conservative Christian upbringing as I expected.

But it didn’t detract from the power of this book and the complete hold it had on me. Through the help of family, friends, and her detailed journals, Westover recalls events from her childhood with gracious eyes, never casting blame or hate on family members that abused her mentally, emotionally, and physically. Some of my favorite moments (and ones I related to in small measure) were when she examined her own opinions and beliefs in her youth, the way she held so tight to everything her dad told her and how those teachings influenced her actions and judgements of others. She does not blame him for this, but rather looks back on herself with fresh and forgiving eyes, looking at herself the way roommates, kids at church, teachers, professors, family, and friends may have looked at her. She managed to imbue so much feeling into each experience and reflection, yet never steers into rage, recrimination, or crippling regret.

Another aspect of the book I loved was how she owned up to not fully remembering details, particularly those from long ago or ones clouded by extreme emotion. I’ve wondering how memoirists can confidently relay events so vividly without conceding their memories might be flawed or hazy, so I found Westover’s candidness about her storytelling very refreshing. That being said, I don’t doubt what happened to her or that this is the way she remembered things. I gave me a lot to think about in terms of the stories we tell about our lives and what people might remember differently. She tells her story in the only way she knows how.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

BOOKS I PURCHASED THIS MONTH:

I was doing so well at not buying too many books for a while. I should’ve known that moving back to Utah would be bad for my to-be-read stacks. When we lived here before, I collected many gems I found for incredibly low prices at the wonderful thrift stores around here. Four months back and I’ve already gotten back in the habit of regularly perusing the books at my local thrift stores and my collection is slowly and steadily growing. I’m trying to practice a certain level of self-control, only buying books already on my wishlist or ones I know I’ll read very soon. But those $2 or less price tags are oh-so-tempting.

TALENT- JULIET LAPIDOS
This was my first preorder of the month for 2019, part research for my novel that features a main character with a similar problem, but it also looked like a fun and light read.

BRIGHT DEAD THINGS - ADA LIMON
I need more poetry in my life and I’ve been staring at a poem of Limon’s for much too long that I cut from the pages of a New Yorker magazine and pinned to my bulletin board. It’s about time I bought her collection and I am LOVING it so far.

A LITTLE LIFE - HANYA YANAGIHARA
This one has been calling to me for much too long, but I’ve been too afraid to take it home from a bookstore because it’s quite the beast I worry I don’t have the time to invest in it. Seeing it at the thrift store was the perfect excuse to finally take it home. Now hopefully it doesn’t haunt me for too long on my TBR shelf.

DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS - JULIE SCHUMACHER
I’ve been in the mood for a quick, fun novel that will still tickle my writer brain and this looked like just the ticket. I bought it on a whim but I think I’m going to read it as soon as I finish Talent.

GOLD FAME CITRUS - CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
This is a book I see floating around on more obscure “best of” lists and have had on my wishlist for too long, so I jumped when I saw it while thrifting.

EDUCATED - TARA WESTOVER
I listened to this one on audiobook but wanted a hard copy, so I kept my eye out at the thrift stores, knowing it would turn up eventually. And it did. Huzzah!

GILEAD - MARILYNNE ROBINSON
I need more religious-centered novels and have heard great things about this one.

BELOVED - TONI MORRISON
I preordered her new collection of essays and figured it’s time to read her novels. I am a bit embarrassed I haven’t read any of her fiction yet.

JANE EYRE - CHARLOTTE BRONTE
in the lovely Modern Library Classics edition that I’d like to start collecting. Don’t you dare shame me for having not read it yet. I always thought I’d read all the classics in college so I put them off, but, oops, I dropped out years ago.

See any you love here? What should I read right away?

Goals, Goals, Writing Goals

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I’m a chronic goal setter. Give me an excuse, any excuse, to set new goals and begin again and I’ll take it. When Josh and I first got married, I set a million goals for us, including but not limited to having weekly check-in meetings together and going out for a unique and creative date night once a week which may have involved a “Date Night Jar” filled with cheesy ideas (friends, he’s still married to me- can you believe it?). Now try to imagine what goals I set every time I get a new job, a new hobby, have a birthday, celebrate the new year, buy a new phone, reorganize my house, or get a spontaneous burst of motivation to be better. I’ll admit, I exhaust myself sometimes.

In years of late, however, I’ve been easier on myself. I still jump at the chance to start anew and try to improve, but my goals have become increasingly vague and open-ended. At the very least I am okay with new habits or good intentions falling by the wayside in months (or days) to come. I’ve forgiven myself for not following through on the thorough daily house cleaning schedule I created and it’s been a while since I’ve vowed anew to exercise each and every day, long since filed away as “all talk, no action” (though I have loads of barely used workout gear to prove I was once motivated). I’ve learned this about myself: While I am very Type A, I thrive when I give myself room to follow what feels best.

I’ve learned that, to me, setting and planning goals are a bit of a hobby of their own. I love writing checklists and creating plans of action. I turn goals it into a friendly game where I’m only competing with myself and if I fail, I’ll give myself a handshake and say “well done” anyway. Because I found a clever way to motivate myself to do hard things even if just for a little while. I got things done and in a month or two, I’ll find another excuse to set more goals and get more things done. But for that time, I’ve created joy and fun in things like house cleaning and grocery shopping.

This year, my only resolution is to keep writing. Emphasis on the “keep” because sometimes all I want to do is give up and find a normal job that doesn’t feel like I’m taking a pen and jabbing it into my gut over and over and over again until I decide I’ve done enough and it’s time to ask someone if my gut-jabbing has impressed them. Sometimes I feel like I’m Dory the fish saying “just keep writing” over and over and over again, turning it into a song that’s less cute and more of a chant the railroad workers sang to keep themselves from losing their minds.

In the past few months, I’ve created plenty of goals in an attempt to light a fire under me and find new ways to get excited when the process is less joy, more work. I began with the usual “write 2000 words a day” which quickly became “write 1000 words a day” but became confusing when I started editing so turned into “work on writing every day” which was too vague so it became “write 1000 original words a day in addition to any editing, brainstorming, etc. on my bigger projects.” But once I delved into the novel I’m working on, I found that just sitting down and continuing off of my last 1000 words felt too directionless, that I was just laying track every day just to get the job done but when I looked back at my tracks, they were leading nowhere, sometimes twisting in directions that didn’t make sense, when the work I was really excited for was up ahead, tempting me to just skip forward and lay down that track and go back later to fill in the rest. All the excitement from my writing was gone and I was getting nowhere.

So I set a new specific writing goal. Write a scene a week. When I imagined writing my novel, I imagined these moments; the perfect thing the main character says, what happens when she’s in hot water, who’s right there with her, who or what’s fighting against her, how it all looks and feels and smells right there in the moment. I love writing scenes, letting them propel the plot forward as the characters do things and say things and cause drama and make mistakes. Chopping my writing up into scenes feels like creating tiny short stories that each play a small part in the grand scheme of things. It feels doable. It feels exciting.

As always, I’m keeping the rules flexible. I can skip down the track if I want. If, later on, I decide a character really needs a nose job or a hair dye or a complete gender switch, I’ll run with that feeling and go back to change things later. If a scene doesn’t sit well in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay. I’m keeping my characters on my mind and building their world.

I’d like to vow to write 52 scenes this year, but I won’t. I know myself too well to do that. And besides, at some point I’m going to have to take all those tracks and somehow stick them together to create one long path. Who’s to say if that will take 52 scenes or 100 or 38. Who’s to say I won’t want to start filling in the blanks before I even get to 20 scenes. I’ll see where my characters and my gut feelings take me.

I’m not naive enough to think this will be all joy and excitement. I’ve learned that my happy little image of “being a writer” sitting at my desk writing down my gorgeous imagination that just flows out of my pen- that isn’t writing. Writing is work. And it’s hard. And sometimes it’s staring at the wall in front of your desk for an hour wondering “what now?” And sometimes it’s banging your head against that wall because it all sucks sucks sucks and nothing’s working. But this is what I want and it’s what I’ve signed up for. So I’ll keep finding ways to create joy in the work and pain. And I’ll keep writing.

The Best Books I Read in 2018

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2018 was a whirlwind year of reading for me. I tried to look at my shelves and figure out my favorite books of the year and picked out a few, but thought I’d check my list of what I read in 2018 to be sure I didn’t miss anything. And holy smokes! Books I thought I must have read a year or two ago were on that list. Some books had that timeless feel, like I knew them in a past life and they’ve been on my mind for so long- even if I only read them a month or two ago.

I read 90 books and liked the majority of them. According to Goodreads, I had a generous 4 star average, possible because I decided I would stop reading books I didn’t love. No more obligatory book club reads, no more finishing a book I started but dreaded continuing. That meant a lot more time for books I loved.

I had many 5 star reads, but I narrowed my 2018 favorites down to the ones that I still think about, underlined much of, recommended to anyone and everyone, influenced my writing, changed the way I looked at the world, blew me away with their writing, or made me feel deeply. So here they are!

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz: Stories by Lara Williams
Such a clever, clever book. Every time I picked it up, I put it down feeling inspired to write. Williams writes with wit and subtle humor and isn’t afraid to push boundaries with her style.

Back Talk: Stories by Danielle Lazarin
I rave endlessly about this book and have recommended it often. This collection beautifully depicts everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between. Many of them harbor a quiet fury and I’m amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate relatable but complicated feelings. She gave me quite the annotating workout.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I now see why everyone kept recommending I read this book. Lamott filled me with so much joy and gratitude that I get the opportunity to write, but also reminded me not to let my ego get the best of me. I appreciated her wisdom on everything from writer’s block to writing as vengeance. This book was the perfect kick in the butt for my writing.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book more delightfully clever or sharp-witted as this book. Underneath its hilarious characters and plot lies more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I had to take this one slow to savor each and every sentence.

Not That Bad: Essays edited by Roxane Gay
Probably the roughest read of the year. This collection of essays details personal histories and thoughts on sexual abuse of all shapes and sizes, written by women and men of all different backgrounds. The writing is incredible. I intended to take it slow, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It’s not a happy book, but it’s a book everyone needs to read in order to see the problem and do something about it.

How To Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
The perfect book to finish 2018 with. Chee’s essays on writing gave me a bit of an existential crisis, making me wonder why on earth I think I can be a writer (I’ll never be as good as him), but also built me up and encouraged me. All of his essays are powerful and wise and poetic. He’s definitely a writer to learn from.

Self-Help: Stories by Lorrie Moore
I found a new queen this year and know I’ll be reading a lot more of Moore this year. What a killer short story writer. All hail the queen of second person.

Kiss Me Someone: Stories by Karen Shepherd
Danielle Lazarin recommended this collection to me and now I’ll read anything Lazarin recommends. Most of the pages are covered in underlines. These are the kinds of stories I wish I could write, and boy have I tried since then. I recommended most of these stories at some point in my writing group and still think of them and return to them often.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
If you’re looking for a delightfully happy novel that is still full of depth and emotion and writing that will blow you away, here’s the book for you. In my post-read obsession with this book, I found an interview with Greer where he says he challenged himself to write something so rare: a book about happiness. He pulled it off beautifully.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
I think I can say this was my favorite book of the year. I couldn’t wait for it to release and when it did, I devoured it and every interview, article, review, and essay about it. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a personal, profound experience reading a novel before. So much resonated with me and I practically journalled all over this book.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
I think I found the formula for a book I’ll love. Women writer + women characters + religious themes + unique form. Toews tells the story of a group of abused women in a Mennonite colony as they struggle to decide whether to fight, flee, or do nothing, leading to discussions about their place and power in their community as mothers, daughters, and sisters. An amazing powerful book, perfect for the times.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Once again, another book about women and religion with writing that inspired me. I also loved Quatro’s collection of short stories which led me to this book which I adored. It gave me so much to think about.

You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
I tore through this collection, laughing and underlining across each page, and by the time I put it down Sittenfeld had become a new favorite writer. She’s so clever and funny, yet manages to write relatable and incredibly real characters that I felt certain I’d met somewhere.

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
This is one book this year that made me want to write a novel. Gabel is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create characters that come to life and sit with you for a long time. She also revived my love for classical music and gave me a kick in the pants to start playing piano regularly again.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
This was the first book I read in 2018 and set the bar high for the rest of the year. I often find myself thinking about this book and it’s premise: how do you live when you know when you’ll die? I fell in love with each of these characters and Benjamin set my emotions on high.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Speaking of books that made me emotional, I can’t think of a book that made me cry more. Not even Harry Potter got me as attached to it’s characters or more emotionally invested in their lives. This book taught me a lot, not only about the AIDS crisis, but about writing and creating characters you want to follow through to the end. It also didn’t hurt that much of the book takes place in Paris; we had just returned from our trip and I was already itching to go back.

I’m not much for setting specific goals, but I would like to slow down my reading this year- take my time to study and annotate. I’d also like to read more as research for my own writing, but also want to make sure I read plenty of women of color and non-binary authors. Oh and have fun, I can’t forget that!

Paris - May 2018

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Yes, this happened back in May of 2018 and I’m posting about it in January 2019. But is it ever too late to document your first trip abroad?? Abroad sounds like such a fancy word and such a fancy occasion certainly has no statute of limitations for posting it on your blog.

Paris was the perfect destination for two people that had previously never left the states. So much to do in one city and many of its people speak english. In a pinch, I know just a little bit of french- enough to understand signs and communicate at restaurants (all of the important stuff). Between the sites, food, weather, vibe, and general beauty of the city, we were smitten.

Air BnB

I’ve been told (indirectly via blog posts and people I stalk on Instagram that have been to France) that you should stay in an AirBnB when visiting Paris. I’ve never stayed in a hotel in Paris, but based on the single place we stayed in our total of six days in Paris, I recommend AirBnB. Specifically the neighborhood where our AirBnB. And specifically our AirBnB. Unless you don’t like climbing 5+ flights of stairs. But remember that 5+ flights of stairs gets your a 5+ flights of stairs view. And ours was lovely. Though I was so smitten with Paris that if our view was the back wall of another Parisian building, I probably would’ve loved it.

We stayed in a lovely one bedroom on a side street of the 10th Arrondissement, just two blocks away from Canal St. Martin. I stressed about finding a great location amongst locals, but also close to metro stops, shops, and good food (as if there isn’t good food all over Paris). This apartment delivered. We were far enough out of the city center for us to be surrounded by locals and not deal with tourist traps/prices but close enough that we had access to everything we wanted to see. Within a block or two, we had a metro stop, multiple grocery stores, bakeries, pastry shops, bookstores, boutiques, and a huge variety of restaurants clearly loved by the locals, as evidenced by the many delivery drivers hanging around our street waiting for orders.

Other details about our AirBnB:
It had a washer/dryer machine (one machine). It was incredibly confusing. Our clothes never dried. Apparently that’s a thing in France where they legitimately think their dryers dry (see also:
L’Appart by David Lebovitz)
They had an espresso maker and varied selection of pods with tiny espresso mugs that we were obsessed with. We were powered solely by espresso all week.
There were so many amazing vintage details (beyond the obviously “vintage” building itself) from the light fixtures to the furniture and pottery that looks like its been broken and put back together many times. Our host is very well-traveled himself and he had little tchotkes from all over the world decorating the place. It was the perfect vibe.
Whenever we were there, we kept the windows open to listen to the sounds of the city, even at night when people were sitting outside the brasserie next door with their children until midnight. The view and the weather were both wonderful and we definitely didn’t take it for granted.
Check out that adorable fridge.
Books everywhere. Loved.

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Sites:

Chateau Versailles
I’ve wanted to go to Versailles ever since freshman world history where our teacher described in detail the lavishness of Louis X!V and his palace. I couldn’t believe she had been to it and seen the Hall of Mirrors. I added it to my own personal bucket list. We got there fairly early in the morning, but it was already packed with an enormous line just to get in. I spent much of our time inside trying to get out of one packed room only to get to another packed room. It was certainly a test for my claustrophobia. But it was all worth it, especially for the Hall of Mirrors. We got some macarons and took them out to picnic in the vast gardens. Next time I’ll skip the inside tour and spend a whole day exploring the gardens. They were so large we only saw just a glimpse.

Eiffel Tower
And to think Parisians wanted this blight on their city taken down! It was amazing to see in person. I especially loved that if you had any sort of vantage point on the city or were in a fairly open space, you could see the tower off in the distance. Tip: The North side (by or across the Seine) was much better than the South side (with the greens).

The Louvre
All of you that have posted pictures of the Mona Lisa crowded by throngs of people almost kept me from going to the Louvre. I expected it to be packed, but we were in the area early in the morning so decided to give it a go. Only the Mona Lisa had a crowd! The rest had loads of room to explore and take your time seeing everything. We lucked out and happened to be there during the Eugene Delacroix exhibit (thank goodness, because his museum was closed for renovations). Seeing his masterpieces and even his practice sketches was incredible. Don’t skip out on the Louvre if you ever get the chance to go. It’s incredible and we’ll definitely be back.

Tuileries Gardens
On our last day in Paris, we slowed down. We got some pastries from Angelina and picnicked with the rest of Paris at the gardens. I love Paris’ dedication to creating beautiful open spaces and the people’s dedication to using them. I do regret not riding a carousel though. Next time!

Notre Dame
If we do another photoshoot, I think I’d like it done at Notre Dame. So gorgeous! Unfortunately we got there in the middle of a Friday afternoon so it was packed. We didn’t end up going inside or to the top, but we spent a lot of time looking at the outside. Next time we’ll give it the attention it deserves.

Food:

Blend Hamburger
The first place we happened to eat at was American. Very well done and we had a lovely server that wanted to chat all day about living in America. The best part was the art on the wall that had really really random english phrases like “rub along with wood.” Was that the french equivalent of Americans getting japanese tattoos that mean nonsense?

La Marine
Classic french bistro that’s open all day for coffee, breakfast, snacks, drinks, dinner, or dessert. Picturesque outdoor seating with a view of the canal.

TIen Hiang
So good we ate their twice. Vegan vietnamese food, though we weren’t aware it was vegan on our first trip, that’s how good it was.

SAaM
Asian-french fusion and probably one of my favorite restaurants we ate at. I loved the whole style and vibe and the food was incredible. I dream about that bao.

Creperie Elo
A walk-up creperie that makes the crepes in front of you and packages them up to go for you to enjoy them in a park were you can watch random families play petanque. Or at least that’s what we did. And it was perfect.

Marcus Pizza Amore
A tiny restaurant that can only seat 10 or less at a time with the tiny kitchen and pizza oven on full display. Possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had and the owner was so friendly.

Myrthe
A lovely little cafe with your typical parisian cafe faire as well as local gourmet goods. Their seating is in an adorable tiny attic nook. We got sandwiches and coffee and took our time enjoying the atmosphere.

Cafe Pouchkine
I went here thanks to the cookbook Tasting Paris that recommended (then offered a similar recipe for) bostock, an amazing pastry that’s basically brioche, almond paste, jam, and powdered sugar all smashed together. This pastry shop had a very chain feel and it was probably the worst service we had on the trip, but boy was that pastry worth it.

Angelina
I worried this well-known spot would be too touristy or not worth it or something. It was worth it. And yes there were many tourists there, but it’s well loved by Parisians as well. The drinking chocolate is to die for and we had a very delicious brunch before taking some pastries to go to picnic in the Tuileries garden. But I realized chestnut is really not my flavor so their famous mont-blanc pastry was not a favorite…

Berthillon
I heard about Berthillon while doing ice cream research forever ago for my own ice cream making so it was at the top of my food bucket list. A pleasant walk away from Notre Dame, this ice cream place is worth the hype! There was a line for the walk-up section, but we enjoyed a seat in their parlor. Their ice creams are absolutely heavenly. They had loads of flavors to choose from, all decadent yet light and excellently flavored.

And many other places…
I can’t name every single place we went to because we ate small portions at a lot of different places so as to try as much as possible. I love that Paris requires restaurants to display their menus outside their shops so we had a chance to check out menus and see if it sounded interested before sitting down. We usually had croque-madames, crepes, or pastas in those situations where we ended up in a place we knew nothing about and for the most part, we did alright by that! We also stopped into many a pastry shop and got a few fresh baguettes from boulangeries. And we frequented the neighborhood MonoPrix for snacks and cheap bottles of wine for the evenings or our picnics by the canal.

Shops:

Les Nouveautés books
Bookstore just a block from our apartment that has a fantastic selection and some english titles as well as a great kids section. We bought some books as well as playing cards for picnicking along the Canal.

Shakespeare & Co. books
Worth the hype with it’s fantastic selection of english books with a view of Notre Dame cathedral. It is crowded and packed so full I never even made it upstairs before it was time to move along. But don’t worry, I’ll be back.

Artazart books and artsy gifts
I loved this store and their carefully curated selection of art and hobby books as well as an amazing selection of beautifully illustrated kids books, fun prints, and unique gifts. Well worth a stop, even if you aren’t artsy.

Antoine et Lili
I loved the home goods store (though they also have a clothing store) and spent too much time in there trying to decide how many things I could reasonably buy and take home. Everything in that store is how I want my house to look.

Objet Celeste
Beautiful jewelry and accessories with the loveliest women working there who were convinced they didn’t speak english well, yet spoke perfectly fine. I got a pair of gorgeous earrings here.

Soliza gifts
Minimal and beautiful selection of handmade goods with a lovely shop owner. A bit too pricey for me but I would’ve loved to buy everything.

La Passerelle concept store and cafe
I loved this place so much we had to go multiple times, though each time I had a difficult time deciding what to purchase because I wanted it all. Lots of great gifts from stationery to kitchen wears to accessories.

Photos by a photographer!

I was so excited to see AirBnB started offering experiences that locals can offer. We looked into having private food tours or cooking classes, but ended up booking a professional photographer. Best. Choice. Ever. We hadn’t had photos of us in a long time, so it was good to get some new ones, but how cool to have these pictures of us in Paris that will last forever? Our photographer met us bright and early around the Louvre and in one hour, we walked around a few miles and got a huge variety of photos. Plus, it was really cool to see Paris when everything was quiet and the sun was just coming up. Now we think we’ll have to do this whenever we travel abroad. It was well worth the money and I highly recommend it.

Tips from a girl that’s only been to Paris once but has a blog so is obviously expert enough to share tips

Research, save destinations on a Google map, and save the map before you leave. This was a lifesaver especially since we didn’t get cell service. Saving my Google map of Paris meant we knew where all the metro stops were and what their schedules are. But the best part was that before our trip, I saved every restaurant and shop and site mentioned on travel blogs, etc. on my map. Then if we were in that neighborhood, I could pull out my map and see what places I’d saved that came highly recommended and were near us. I also saved our “must-do” list to Trello, giving each arrondissement their own list so if we took the metro to that area, we could cross everything off that list without having to get on the metro again. The arrondissements make planning so easy. All the research also helped to make sure we were eating at delicious locally-recommended spots instead of places that looked good (because everything in Paris looks good).

Don’t eat in the super touristy neighborhoods. I’d heard this advice so we generally stayed away from places around the Eiffel Tower and Louvre with the exception of Angelina (worth it and not a tourist trap) and a few cafes/bistros we ended up at simply because we were there and starving. Those were the most (relatively) disappointing spots. Just because it’s a bistro in Paris and it’s crowded doesn’t mean it’s good. Though it’s still decent because yes, it is Paris. The best food we ate was a few metro stops away from downtown. I’ll go a step further and say if there’s a lot of delivery drivers waiting by their vespas outside a restaurant, it’s a good sign. That means locals love it so much they want it delivered to them.

Use the metro. It really is easy to get around, especially if you download a Google map of the entire city beforehand (see above). Pretty much all lines lead to the city center and there are connecting lines in between as well as larger stations around the city where you can connect to anywhere. And Paris is so walkable you can easily walk a little farther to get to those bigger stations if you’re worried about navigating train transfers (though there are clear signs everywhere so it’s not too difficult). I know if you look at a map, it looks insane, but I promise it’s much easier than it looks. Though I speak some french, it didn’t really come in handy on the metro but their color-coding and destination maps at each train and stop made it easy. We bought a book of ten tickets and that was nearly enough for our weeklong trip (though we could’ve easily walked to some places we took the metro to). I will note, however, that Uber’s are EVERYWHERE, even very very early in the morning when you need a ride to the airport, just in case you were paranoid about planning your trip back to the airport like I was.

Though it’s not necessary, learn a little french. I brushed up on my french with Duolingo before our trip as well as memorized some common phrases that would come in handy (like how to ask someone to speak slower or if a business accepted credit cards or if someone spoke english or to order tap water, no sparkling). I found that 4/5 times, Parisians would respond to my french in english, knowing I was American and were kind enough to end my obvious struggling. However, they often showed appreciation that I took the time to be respectful of them and their country that I was visiting. Many people would say they didn’t speak much English but they spoke it better than I might ever learn french (so modest of them). It was only a problem a few times, more often the farther away from city center we got. Either way, starting things off conversations in stumbling french with a phrase I memorized beforehand and letting them speak english if they could certainly comes off nicer than constantly telling people “I don’t speak french” on the trip you’ve been planning for months.

FOR NEXT TIME

Yes, there will definitely be a next time. We’re thinking that every time we go to Europe, we’ll spend some time in Paris in addition to whatever new places we want to explore. We just got so attached in our short week there. Next time we will be sure to…

Spend more time exploring the Versailles gardens. We’ll pack a nice picnic, skip the crowded tours of the chateau, and enjoy the gorgeous outdoors. And hopefully next time Marie Antoinette’s hamlet will be open.

More art museums. Now that we’ve checked the big sites off our list, we can spend money on the smaller or less well known sites and museums that we just didn’t have the budget for. I’d love to go to Delacroix’s museum and Orangerie and the Pompidou.

Eclairs. Can you believe I didn’t eat a single eclair in Paris? I’d love to find some choux pastry specialty shops and try loads of different kinds.

Montmartre. We never made it up to see Sacre-Coeur and I’d love to see the view of Paris from there as well as explore the 1920’s artists and writers sites.

Hop on a train and head out to small towns. I loved exploring Versailles and seeing the quieter places outside of Paris, so I’d love to see other smaller towns and get a little off the beaten path (and maybe be forced to actually use my french).

Ride a carousel. There are loads of lovely carousels all over the city and I regret not just hopping on one.

February 2018 Reading Wrap

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What an incredible month of reading! I whined about not having enough five-star reads in January and this month I found five five-star reads, some of which made it to my favorites list. With the exception of the one, each book perfectly suited what I needed at that moment. So many of them inspired my own writing in a month when I really needed some motivation to keep fighting the fight in the hope my work can be half as good someday!

Back Talk - Danielle Lazarin
At this point in time, I can confidently say Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is my favorite collection of short stories. She has beautifully depicted everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between, dealing with the complexities of relationships, desire, and emotion. A number of them harbor a quiet fury and I'm simply amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate such relatable but complicated feelings. Empathetic yet honest, these stories are for and about women and the quiet, powerful moments of our lives.
★★★★★

The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie
What an utterly delightful and highly underrated book. You could call this a romantic comedy, but with so much cleverness and sharp wit underscoring a funny tale that masks more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I initially checked this book out from the library but had to buy my own copy after reading only three pages because I was itching to underline all over the place. McKenzie's writing is so sharp, so playful, so insightful that I had to slow down and savor every sentence. I truly loved this book and know I will return to it again and again, both to enjoy these characters and their story as well as to learn from her craft.
★★★★★

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
What a beautiful, witty, thoughtful, heartbreaking book. From the start, I was hooked and curious about Janie's life thanks to all of the comical gossiping townsfolk. Hurston tells her story with heart, humor, and gorgeous imagery. I grew so attached to this main character and cheered her on as she tried to find herself and happiness as a black woman in the south in the 1930s. This certainly won't be the last time I join Janie on her path to self-discovery. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Ruby Dee who made it feel like an entire theater production. Regardless, this is an incredible book that everyone should read.
★★★★★

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi
This gorgeous, haunting, poetic debut explores identity, spirituality, mental health, survival, and the body in such a stylistically unique and profound way that will stick with me for a long time. The audiobook was beautifully performed by Akwaeke Emezi herself which I couldn't stop listening to after I began. I feel this is one of those instances where the audiobook enhances the reading experience. 
★★★★★

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz - Lara Williams
What a clever, clever book. Throughout this month I've struggled a bit with my writing yet every time I picked up this book I felt so inspired. Williams writes with such wit and subtle humor and isn't afraid to push boundaries. I found many of these rather short stories to be relatable as they're mostly centered around millennial women just trying to find themselves and their way in the world amidst dating, heartbreak, crumbling dream, and unreachable expectations. But these stories aren't as depressing as I'm making them sound, I promise. They are just so clever and I know I'll be turning back to this book again and again when I need some quick inspiration or jolt of courage to break the rules a bit.
★★★★★

This Will Be My Undoing - Morgan Jerkins
I'm just going to leave this quote here and say that you should read this blindingly honest yet powerfully tender book of essays. "One-sided feminism is dead. This book is not about all women, but it is meant for all women, and men, and those who do not adhere to the gender binary. It is for you. You. Our blackness doesn't distance us from other women; however it does distinguish us, and this requires further understanding. At the same time, my story is not a one-size-fits-all take about black womanhood. This is not your resolution but the continuation of your education, or maybe the beginning. We deserve to be the center; our expansive stories are worthy of being magnified for all their ugliness, beauty, mundaneness, and grandeur. I will not baby you. Instead, I will force you to keep your eyes on me and, in turn, us, and see the seams of everyday life that you have been privileged to ignore but that have wrecked us."
★★★★☆

Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
I love historical fiction for the way it can teach about events and encourage empathy for groups of people across time. I learned so much from this book about the relationship between Japan and Korea as well as the struggles of Koreans living in Japan from WWII to the present day. But I think I'm in the minority for not loving this book. In general, epics aren't my favorite (I mean, I'm a short story lover), but this book received so much acclaim I couldn't resist giving it a go. I liked it and see why others have raved about it, but I didn't love it as much as I wanted to. Such large periods of time passed throughout this book with characters appearing and disappearing that I had a hard time getting attached to anyone. The writing often felt clinical and detached to pack in all of the necessary information and huge events were often snuck in at the end of chapters, making it feel rushed or used for shock factor. I felt that maybe if more care had been given to depict these big events, I might have been more attached to these characters. But Like I said, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, especially to those who love historical fiction and epics.
★★★☆☆

The Assistants - Camille Perri
Sometimes you need a good, light girly novel to help you forget a bad day and this book is exactly what the doctor ordered. You know what I'm talking about. An adorable love interest, funny and borderline-obnoxious friendships, loads of pop culture references, heavily veiled feminism, a ridiculous plot we've all fantasized about, and tidy, happy endings. If this book isn't made into a fun romantic comedy starring someone like Reese Witherspoon or whoever the latest romcom ladies are, it will be quite the waste. Next time you need a quick weekend pick-me-up read that will make you smile and forget your problems for just a second (or give you ideas about embezzling enough money to solve all of your problems), pick this one up.
★★★☆☆

Force of Nature - Jane Harper
I got hooked on this sequel to well-done Australian mystery. I managed to read most of this during Olympic commercial breaks, something I'm not usually good at. While at times cliche and predictable with some details that were a little too convenient, I enjoyed this followup. I love how she created settings that act as dark characters; intense, spooky, and integral to the story. While I didn't like it as much as the Dry and the allure of Aaron Falk faded some, I do look forward to more of her work and I'm interested to see what setting she'll use next.
★★★☆☆

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance - Elna Baker
I first heard Elna Baker on This American Life where she shared a story about being Mormon and single and overweight in NYC. Despite admitting to being a pathological liar, her stories were painfully honest and so relatable, particularly her struggles with her faith and trying to navigate two different worlds, neither of which feel fully hers. She hit every emotion on the spectrum for me and the reading experience felt as cathartic as a good long talk and cry with a close friend. At times the writing wasn't fabulous, some of her statements problematic, and jokes sometimes felt flat, but I really enjoyed this book and had a completely unexpected reading experience.
★★★☆☆

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July
I uh... did not like this collection. This is one of those rare moments where I can easily separate the writing from the stories and say the writing was great, maybe even excellent, but I disliked the characters and narrative. And it made me sad that her possibly excellent writing was used on stories I never want to read again. At first, I enjoyed her unusual imagination and way with words, but each story continued to feature depressing, lonely women with strange sexual fantasies. It almost felt like she tried to write as many stories under this theme that she could. It didn't feel empowering or thoughtful. It just felt sad and weird. I craved some variety and eventually the moments where I paused in amazement at her clever imagery just made me depressed that I could not like this book. I should say that maybe had I read each one as individual pieces without tying together her other work, I may have enjoyed her stories more. 
★★☆☆☆

A Fourth Grader's Dream

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In fourth grade, Mrs. Rushford told me I would make a great writer. That year was the big writing year, the year students got books "published" into hardcovers with laminated jackets we illustrated ourselves. Our classroom was stocked with tiny toy-like word processing laptops we were free to use during recess and writing time and I remember spending many lunches inside at my desk working on a secret silly chapter book about a unicorn in the forest. I couldn't wait to get my fingers on the keyboard and put my imaginings into a very official looking document.

When it came time to write our own books to be published at the end of the year, I couldn't decide between two stories. I had mapped them out in my head and felt sure that both would astound my class with their maturity and depth, so which to choose? Finally, I shyly asked Mrs. Rushford if it would be alright if I wrote two, expecting to hear that each student would only get one book published because if not, wouldn't everyone write multiples? To my surprise, she got excited and told me she would love it if I wrote two. Strangely, no one else in class seemed to want to do the same.

I'm not sure why I needed two different books because they were about the same thing. Two young girls who are loved and admired tragically die. I specifically remember illustrations of a morbid graveyard with a young girl's name etched in stone. Looking back, this might be a great discussion topic for my therapist. I had recently watched a Hallmarky movie about a couple that falls in love and the woman dies tragically of something or other. I became enraptured with death; my emo stage was definitely fourth grade. Thus becoming the ten-year-old Nicholas Sparks.

After we turned in our stories, Mrs. Rushford didn't bat an eye at my depressing subject matter (though I wonder if she considered talking to my parents?) and told me I would make a great writer someday. I held onto that for a long time, truly believing that if my teacher assured me that I'd excel at a career that I must pursue it.

But I would go to the library and look at the rows and rows of shelves filled with books. So many authors. Too many. Writers of books people had never heard and never checked out. Would my work even get noticed in the sea of books out there in the world? Sure, maybe I could get something published, but I'd probably never be famous and make a lot of money just from writing. Eventually, I set that dream aside and developed other interests, some of which were short whims, others lasted longer.

I still loved reading and writing, despite never allowing myself to seriously consider it as a career. I started a blog at the end of high school and loved publishing posts, even if no one read them. I read novels as much as possible, hauling heavy boxes of books between each place I lived in college.

I studied graphic design and went to culinary school and my reading and writing became much more niched, much less imaginative. Over the years, I thought of Mrs. Rushford. I wanted to someday send her a copy of a book I'd published and show her I followed through. So I thought of workarounds. I'd publish a cookbook! Or a food memoir! Or I'd become an expert on design and entrepreneurship and write a self-help book! Then I'd be an author and I could tell her I did it, even if it wasn't exactly the original plan.

Then I got a job at a bookstore and realized just how much I love books. I read more seriously, more widely, more in-depth. I wanted to be as knowledgeable as possible when making recommendations or discussing books with customers. And I discovered that when working at a bookstore, people assume you're a writer or English major. I was neither. I almost took a little pride in the fact that I enjoyed books without thinking I could write one. But a little part of me wished I could. Occasionally I'd journal or write down little scenes I made up in my head or come up with book ideas.

Then I had a really rough year. I went through a lot that left me feeling alone and confused and I desperately wished there was a book for what I was going through. I had always turned to books to be friends and guides and I didn't realize how much I relied on their help until there didn't seem to be one to help me. Then I read a quote by Toni Morrison.

If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

I could do that. Even if I never got published, I could write the book that I needed. Just for me. So I bought a new notebook and started writing as often as I could. And through writing what I wish I could read, I found comfort in the creation. It helped me process so much and channel my sadness and frustrations in a healthy way. And it brought me back to fourth grade, the excitement of opening those little laptops and typing away, putting my imagination into a document. Don't worry, no young girls die in my stories. Not yet, anyway. 

But you know me and I know me. Next year I might be working on a completely new project and my writing will be stored away in some hidden files on my computer I'll never look at again. I won't profess that I've found my calling and will never stray again. But so far I'm loving it and it does feel like a calling, something natural to me that I've kept hidden away for too long. And maybe someday I'll be published. Maybe someday I'll have a finished product in hardcover with a jacket I didn't have to illustrate myself and I can send it to Mrs. Rushford and say, "Look. I did it. I've created a work of fiction, just like my ten-year-old self said she would." 

We'll see. In the meantime, thank you, Mrs. Rushford, for your encouragement that has stuck with me no matter what I've been working on over the years.